Friday 15th February


At last a dry day and a bit of sunshine to brighten up the winter garden.  It really feels like Spring is on its way with the early Spring bulbs just beginning to emerge to produce a beautiful tapestry of colour. (All the backache of those countless Autumn Fridays really was worthwhile as we are able to admire the fruits of our labour!).

Continuing the theme, Julia and Clare talked about some of the bulbs we can be planting in the garden over the next couple of months for Summer and Autumn flowering displays.

The term “bulb” refers to all bulbous flowering plants which include corms, rhizomes, tubers and true bulbs.  All bulbous plants have a part of the plant which is swollen into a food storage organ.   This enables the plant to survive when dormant or when conditions are unsuitable for growing.

Corms eg. Crocosmia ‘George Davison’

Crocosmia is a small genus of flowering plants in the Iradaceae (Iris) family and its bulb is an example of a corm. It is also known as Montbretia in the UK or Coppertops in the USA and is a perennial with branching heads of flowers and sword shaped leaves. Originally from the grasslands of Southern and Eastern Africa they were introduced to the UK 125 years ago.  C. ‘George Davison’ is a clump-forming perennial with branching stems carrying light orange-yellow flowers from orange buds.

They grow from a corm which is a swollen stem base, with the new corm growing on top of the old one, taking energy from this year’s foliage. Corms have a basal plate and one or more growing points at the tip and have no rings when cut in half.

They should be planted in spring when all danger of frosts has gone.  Plant with the pointy end up and water weekly.  Spent flowers should be removed by cutting back the whole stem to where the leaves are and they should flower for five to eight weeks. They flower best in full sun or partial shade, in fertile humus-rich well drained soil and do not like hot dry sites.

There are many varieties available which vary widely in height and colour: Jackanapes and Canary Bird can be as small as 69cm or 24 inches whilst Lucifer and Columbus can reach 120 cm or 48 inches.

Other bulbs grown from corms are gladiolus, crocus and freesia.

Rhizomes – eg. Canna ‘Wyoming’

Canna Lilies grow from rhizomes or underground stems which are swollen and lie almost horizontally.   C. ‘Wyoming’ is a strong growing plant with an erect stem, deep bronze ovate leaves and rich orange flowers  Growing to almost 1m and blooming from mid summer through to early autumn, it adds good structure to the garden and adds a tropical, exotic look to displays. It also looks good in containers.  This has been awarded a RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).


For best results, plant in full sun in a sheltered spot, (4 inches deep) in humus-rich but well drained, moist soil. (The rhizome should be planted with the tips facing up).  Keep dead-heading regularly to encourage new blooms and an addition of a good mulch would benefit by keeping down the weeds and conserving moisture.

For those of you with a heated greenhouse, it can be started off in late March planted in a 20cm pot with its young shoots exposed.  It should be watered lightly and then moved to an unheated greenhouse in April to harden off until the danger of frost has passed.

Tubers – eg. Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and Anemona coronaria De Caen Group

Dahlias are tubers which are irregularly -shapped underground storage organs for nutrients, providing energy for the plant throughout the growing season.  They are tender perennials and so will require protection during the winter months.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ is one of the most well know dahlias and was bred in Cardiff in  1924 by Fred Treseder for the then Bishop of Llandaff, going on to be awarded a RHS AGM in 1928.  It has dark blackish-red stems and foliage with semi-double bright red flowers and will flower from June through to September/October.  It grows to approx 1m.



The tubers should be firm and plump when planting and so discard any that are shrivelled or soft.   In April they can be planted in pots in a mixture of good potting compost and well rotted manure and kept under cover in the greenhouse until all danger of frosts has passed (usually in May).  They can then be brought out of the greenhouse and either left in their pots (in which case they would benefit from a good feed) or planted deeply in the open garden in a sunny spot.  They are greedy and so will need regular watering and feeding over the growing season.  Although they like a humus-rich soil, they also like good drainage and so an addition of horticultural grit when planting is good for heavy soils.  It is a good idea to stake them when planting.

Anemone coronaria (also known as windflowers, poppy anemones and Spanish marigolds and are native to the Mediterranean region) are tuberous herbaceous perennials growing to 40cm, blooming from April to June. The De Caen Group have finely-dissected, palmate leaves and red, blue/violet or white flowers.  They are valued by florists as they can be available nearly all year round.  Gardeners can achieve a similar long season of flowering by planting the corms during different seasons, eg. April for June and in June for September flowering.  They can be lifted after flowering but if left in the soil, they will naturalise to flower annually during the spring.



The hard black corms are very different from dahlia tubers and often benefit from soaking in a bowl of tepid water before planting.  This is said to encourage them to sprout faster and develop a good network of roots. They should then be planted in full sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil and mulched with well-rotted manure or compost.

True bulbs – eg. Nerine bowdenii ‘Ostara’ 

True bulbs are formed from swollen leaf bases and are made up of concentric rings of scales attached to a basal plate. (Some have a dry protective layer or skin, eg. daffodils and tulips).

Nerine, commonly known as the Guernsey or Jersey Lily is a species of flowering plant in the Amaryllidaceae family of herbaceous perennials such as daffodils and snowdrops.  Nerines are summer dormant perennial bulbs and have six narrow petals and prominent stamens.  There are 30 species although only a couple are hardy outdoors in the UK –  bowdenii and undulate. All are native to South Africa, particularly the Drakensberg mountains and were introduced in 1903 by Cornish Bowden, hence the name.   They are sometimes known as Guernsey Lilly as Nerine sarniensis became naturalised when a ship from Japan carrying the bulbs was wrecked on the coast of Guernsey – hence the name Guernsey Lilly.

Nerine bowdenii are the easiest to grow and can be planted outdoors or in a sunny sheltered position from autumn through to early spring.  Disappointingly, flowering is often poor in their first year.   They are fussy plants – disliking shade and do not compete well with other plants.  They dislike being moved and actually flower better when the bulbs become congested.  Leaves appear in the spring and then die down in summer, going on to flower in autumn. They are great additions to any garden as they extend the flowering season from September into November.

Nerine bowdenii ‘Ostara’ grow to 50cm high and have rich green strappy leaves which die away ro reveal erect stems bearing clusters of pale pink lily-like flowers.


Jobs this week:

Pruning was the order of the day this week as we sought to control and tidy before things really start growing.

  • Pruning the honeysuckle and rose over the arch near the potting shed.


  • Pruning the two apple trees, particularly looking out for water shoots – this is where a branch has been pruned previously and several whip-like shoots or “water sprouts” have grown up in its place.


  • Constructing a support out of bamboo canes for the cherry tree at the back of the greenhouse.


  • Securing down the old moss rose shoots and tying up Rosa ‘William Lobb’


  • Pruning and tying in Rosa ‘Albertine’ and Clematis ‘Alba Luxurians’.
  • Pruning the red and black currants along with the quince tree to open up the garden and reduce the risk of disease.


  • Potting on the chard and stipa in the greenhouse.


So good to be outside again and fingers crossed winter is on its way out…..




Friday 8th February 2019

No snow this week, but biting cold wind and grey drippy skies.


Our plant ident. this Friday was done by Liz (thank you, Liz), who presented us with a series of grasses, rushes and sedges.  Useful in the garden in so many ways: giving structure and interest throughout the year; good in borders and pots; providers of sensational sensory encounters (sound, movement, light, texture); attractive to wildlife; stabilising; giving continuity and unification to planting schemes. Why not give them a try?

Phragmites australis


The common reed belongs to the Poaceae family.  Not really suitable for most gardens, unless you live on An Estate as opposed to an estate.  They are often seen in areas of wetland across the U.K., where extensive golden-brown reed beds are a haven for wildlife, particularly birds.  Growing from 2 – 4 metres tall, the reeds have hollow stems which grow from a system of spreading rhizomes, and produce long, feathery, purple plumes.  They are still harvested for thatching – especially in the Norfolk Broads – and scientists are also interested in the possibility of using reed beds as water filters.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’


A compact, deciduous, perennial grass with long, narrow, green blades finely edged in creamy white.  It grows to a height of about 1.2 metres and its elegant form adds height, movement and interest to borders.  In the autumn it produces reddish pink panicles of flowers which gradually bleach through the winter.  Cut back to ground level in February.

Stipa gigantea


Also known as giant feather grass or golden oats, this evergreen perennial is one of Bridge’s favourite grasses.  Reaching 2.5 metres, it has a powerful presence in the garden, producing oat-like flower heads on arching stems in the summer months which persist into the winter.  Plant in a sunny position in well-drained soil and it will shimmer; it looks particularly effective when back-lit by the evening sun. It has a transparency which enables one to see through it, so it can be planted towards the front of a border – either singly or perhaps in groups of three.  Easy to grow and requires little maintenance, other than to cut back in early spring.

Panicum elegans ‘Frosted Explosion’

A half-hardy annual which is easy to grow from seed.  Much sought after by florists and flower arrangers for its airy, textural appearance, it has been described as looking like a fibre optic lamp!  Poaceae family.

Plant ident. (practical)

Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’


A semi- evergreen perennial which can actually be grown anywhere, including wet or very moist soils.  It grows to around 0.3 metres from rhizomes and has creamy yellow/ green variegated leaves.  Good as ground cover, but it spreads slowly so you may need to invest in a few to make an impact.  Propagate by division.


Festuca glauca


Poaceae family.  A decorative fescue grass which forms a compact tuft with blue needle-like foliage.  There are several named forms, such as ‘Elijah Blue’ and ‘Blaufuchs’ which are hardier and bluer than the original Festuca glauca.  Good in containers, gravel and rock gardens – but also borders, where they look better planted in a group.  Odd numbers, please.  About 0.6 wide x 0.3 metres tall.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’


A dwarf form of evergreen pampas grass which is very hardy and wind resistant.  Grows in any sunny situation in well-drained soil.  Narrow rough-edged leaves accompany stiff stems which, in the summer, carry creamy-white flower panicles up to 1.2 metres tall.  Cut back to the ground in early spring – or you could always do what Sussex Prairies do with their grasses and set fire to it!  (N.B. Not advised!)  


Phyllostachys nigra


The black-stemmed bamboo can grow to 8 – 9 metres tall.  Needs light, nitrogen, plenty of water, and not much in the way of competition from other plants.  It’s a spreader, so beware!  Keep it in a pot or ensure it is contained in some way when planted.  Chop off runners before it takes over the garden – and the house.


Cyperus alternifolius


The umbrella plant.  Cyperaceae family.  It’s a sedge with an edge. Growing by the pond at Garden House, as it simply loves a watery location. Think Moses in his papyrus basket.  The stems are round, smooth and a beautiful green.  A local Sussex garden owner reports that his dwarf papyrus grows just fine away from any water margins, but that it needs plenty of light to grow well.  Good in a large pot.  An evergreen perennial, it forms a clump of stems which reach a height of about 0.6 metres ending in palm-like green bracts.  Can be grown indoors.


A seedy discussion

Vicky then did a presentation on seeds, bringing in a wide range for us to examine and marvel at.  All so different and all so miraculous.


From the top and going clockwise, these are seeds from the sycamore, marigold, French bean, clematis and pumpkin.  In the centre is a pine cone, which opens to release its seeds when they have ripened.

And then, these:

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From left to right, the seeds of sweet pea, black scabious, Japanese anemone, Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican daisy).

All seeds grow in much the same way, given light, warmth, food and water.  They grow roots first, to take hold, then a small plant begins to emerge.  This process is known as germination.  The roots take nutrients from the soil and then light gives the plant energy to begin photosynthesis.

In her own garden, Vicky uses seed compost when sowing seeds – although it is perfectly possible to get good germination using a good multi-purpose compost.  Smaller seeds can be fiddly and tricky to sow as it is difficult to see them.  Many gardeners add a little silver sand to the seeds before sprinkling them over the surface of the compost, making it easy to see where they have fallen.

Some seeds need a period of cold to help them germinate (vernalisation), whilst others  require soaking in water.  Some need to be sown immediately, when fresh, whilst others will remain viable for years.  Variety is the spice of life.

Containers for seed-sowing.

You can, of course, make your own.  Cheap, environmentally-friendly and the pack also comes with a free halo.


Three taps of the magic wand….


Et voilà!

There is also the option of using peat free compost discs


Add water and stand back…..


Quite quite magical.

Some seeds are best sown in root trainer modules – like sweet peas.


Others do better in small modules


Or larger ones


Or sprinkled sparingly in a tray


Fill the container with compost.  Strike off the soil on top to create a flat surface.  Tamp down lightly.  Use a finger or a dibber to make a hole, if the seed is big enough to need one, and cover lightly.   Best not to water from above as smaller seeds can get washed about – stand in water until damp.  You can apply a thin layer of vermiculite on top of the compost, as it lets light through.  Place in a warm, light environment.  A heated mat in a greenhouse is perfect.

Seed potatoes

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Nowadays, specially bred disease-resistant seed potatoes are available.  Early, second early and maincrop – the choice is yours – along with a huge range of varieties.  Seed potatoes need to be “chitted” (allowed to sprout) before planting.  Somewhere cool and airy, like a garden shed, is ideal.  Dig a shallow trench in a sunny place in the vegetable garden and mix the soil with lots of good garden compost / well-rotted manure. Add an organic slow- release fertiliser, like pelleted chicken manure.  Plant the chitted potatoes (not chipped potatoes) about 0.3 metres apart, with the shoots facing upwards.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell which way is “up”, and Vicky suggests that you try to find the “eyebrow” where the bud is and ensure that this is underneath the bud as you plant. (See photo above.)

Whilst your potatoes are growing, you merely have to keep earthing them up and conducting extensive research on exactly how you are going to cook them.


Mmmmm, potatoes……








Friday 1st February 2019

There’s little that stops us from getting outside at Friday Group, but on Friday 1st Feb.,  snow definitely stopped play.  As a result, our blog is shorter this week – more of a blogette.

We were due to split into two working parties to help a couple of our lucky colleagues with their own plots.  But sadly, the Weather Fairy had other ideas……

In the bleak midwinter


Frosty wind made moan


Earth stood hard as iron

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Water like a stone


All well at Garden House though – someone has wrapped up the greenhouse


Cosy!  I wonder what tog rating that fleece is?


As a result, the sweet peas and capsicum seeds are sitting pretty in their pots.

In the meantime, Friday Group members have been diligently keeping up with their horticultural research.  This is the winter garden at Mottisfont.  A planting of Betula jacquemontii in the foreground, with Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and Helleborus argutifolius behind.


And these photos are from Wisley’s recently extended area of planting for winter interest


The fragrant, hardy, deciduous shrub Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’, glowing pale yellow on a grey day.


Rubus cockburnianus (the white-stemmed bramble)


The stunning bark of Prunus serrula


And under glass in the Alpine House, these little beauties….


The plants in here are all grown in terracotta pots which are plunged into sand in the raised beds.  This mimics their natural growing environment, keeping the roots cool and away from hot sun.  The gardeners here even brush the sand level with soft paintbrushes, such is their attention to detail.  Vents, windows and doors are kept open during the day, even in winter, to maximise airflow; what alpines hate most is not the cold, but the wet.





Hang on a minute….


Is that cherry tree made of Lego?

And what about these Anthurium andraeanum in The Glasshouse?


It’s the Great Brick (Lego) Safari at Wisley


“Aha! We very nearly literally gottcha!”


At least this one got away safely